Children learn at a very early age to watch, listen and learn. Some do this in silence; others tend to display their new knowledge with flair, mimicking what they see or hear. As an educator, an adult, you quickly realize everything you say and do is remembered...in vivid detail. To be in the presence of children is a great honor and a huge responsibility.
If we are fortunate they will see value in what we say and do, taking the best part of each experience and fashioning it into an identity they will alter and wear for the rest of their lives. Someone Like Me (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, July 3, 2017) written by Patricia MacLachlan with illustrations by Chris Sheban is a heartwarming journey through childhood. It's about choosing what you do with your time.
If you were a little girl
who listened to stories
These stories were not told once or twice or even three times but repeatedly during the course of this little girl's life. They became a part of who she was. These tales were from everyday life but elevated to familiar family legends.
Consuming books like air, fueling her heart and mind, even when her mom was walking home with her from the public library, was something this little girl did every single day. She learned to be invisible hiding from her parents as they discussed things, hush-hush things. Her imaginative mind longed for her animal friends to speak.
Like many children climbing to the tops of trees generated a feeling of freedom for her. Above the regular world a new realm was revealed. Have you ever wanted to run away? Did you? Was it because someone promised you something? This little girl found people fascinating; what they did, said, and sang.
All these observations of the world around helped her become her true self. They formed a focus for her life's work, woven into other familiar stories. The daily directions she chose created pathways for others to follow for generations.
This narrative, a string of lyrical reflections, written by Newbery Medalist Patricia MacLachlan, is a gentle moving piece. It reminds us of the transformative power of experience and study. Through her words Patricia MacLachlan supplies us with encouragement; no part of our lives is too small to make a big difference. Here is a partial passage.
If you were a girl whose great-grandmother loved
the smell and feel of prairie earth,
and ran through the grasses
sending the geese on the slough to
and back again
Rendered in watercolor, colored pencil and graphite all of the illustrations by Chris Sheban, beginning with the matching dust jacket and book case, cast a spell over readers, taking us to a place and time when a little girl uses her senses to enjoy the fascination the world offers her. A striking use of light and shadow in this first picture as the sun rises asks us to pause with her and her dog beneath the tree on a rise above a field. You have to wonder what she has written in her journal.
To the left, on the back surrounded in white a loosely framed image shows the girl sitting on the tree branch now, her back to us. The dog is also facing in the opposite direction watching a line of geese above the field. Golden yellow, orange and purple color the sunset sky. The journal leans against the base of the tree. Golden yellow covers the opening and closing endpapers. Under the text on the title page a grandmother (great-grandmother) sits on a porch step telling the girl seated beneath her a story. On the dedication and verso page and the first page, the duo is now walking down a lane as the storytelling continues.
Chris Sheban shifts his visual sizes to complement the narrative, full page, double page, and multiple pictures on a single page. The colored pencil and graphite creates a textured look. Chris chooses to use muted colors in large portions of some of the illustrations with other elements in full color for emphasis. His use of white space is absolutely stunning on two of the pages. The facial features on all the characters, especially on the little girl, have you wanting to be best friends with all of them.
It's hard to pick a single illustration as a favorite when they are all worthy of framing. One particular picture I really like spans two pages. It's a close-up of the girl under the dinner table. We can see the underside of the table, the kind which pulls out to add leaves. Her parent's legs and feet are visible. Her dog, next to the father's chair, is watching her. Lying on her stomach, head resting on her hands, elbows bent, the little girl, has one finger at her lips in a shush position. Light from the room filters through the flowered table cloth and shines on the lower portion of her face.
Every single time I've read Someone Like Me written by Patricia MacLachlan with illustrations by Chris Sheban, I am moved by the simple but profound beauty on each page. Patricia's words sing straight into your heart. Chris's luminous illustrations envelope you. I can't begin to tell you how much I love this book! And I can't wait to share it with readers this coming school year.
To learn more about Chris Sheban and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website. At the publisher's website you can view gorgeous interior images. Chris Sheban is featured by teacher librarian Travis Jonker on his blog, 100 Scope Notes, Preview: The Crusty Nibs. Chris is interviewed at LitPick and on author James Preller's Blog.
UPDATE: Author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson shares art from this book on her blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, September 22, 2017.
These videos are two of my favorite ones highlighting Patricia MacLachlan.